BAHIA de CARAQUEZ, Ecuador
Upon arrival, a centipede greeted us in our bedroom in the capital, and a lizard welcomed us in our kitchen in this small coastal town.
Upon daybreak, cars and their horns woke us in Quito, and a variety of birds and their whistles did the same in Bahia.
We reached our second destination on our six-month journey through Latin America at about 6 a.m. on a Monday after a bumpy, jerky and rattling seven-hour bus ride from the Andean highlands to the Pacific coast. That´s a long bus ride for a country the size of Colorado.
Taking the night bus was Pessa’s idea so she could sleep and not feel the dizzying effects of vertigo, the illness she has struggled with for about a week.
Good news: She slept. Bad news: I nearly vomited.
As we traversed the Andeas, the bus never maintained a constant momentum for more than five seconds. Accelerate. Turn. Shift. Brake. Turn. Shift. Ascend. Accelerate. Shift. Decend. Turn. Accelerate. Brake. Decend.
My sleep was scant, but that was of little consequence six hours later as I wrote on a set of oceanfront steps. When the waves are mighty enough, they reach the lower step my feet rest on.
While the ocean water near the equator is surely warm, the water at the Planet Drum house is far from welcoming.
Pessa’s sister, Laura, warned us in a text that the communal environment for the reforestation project we were coming to was “dirty,” but no details followed.
With our own eyes, I thought the second-level apartment was about as dirty as a college frat house – add tropical critters – but the bathroom was downright repulsive. Think about the worst childhood camp latrine you encountered and add equatorial heat. To give a little more detail, the water is sometimes off and you have to use recycled shower water to make your darker deposits flush.
Laura, however, did text that the putrid bathroom was easy to overcome. The daytime waves on my feet surely helped, but we fully understood what she meant when we met the entire group at the daily tradition – el caida del sol or the sunset.
Every night a smattering of residents from this 20,000-person town on a peninsula gather on the western shore to watch the sun disappear into the Pacific.
“Muy rico,” or ¨very refreshing,¨ said Orlando, one of two Ecuadorian men that we just met and would lead us in our reforestation work.
Life on Planet Drum
Slightly after Tuesday´s daybreak, the slow bass drum of music started beating at about 7 a.m. Our life on Planet Drum had just begun.
That lede makes it seem as though we´ve joined a cult, but its far from it. It´s more laid-back, hippie commune.
(As I would later learn, one meaning of Planet Drum is that we the volunteers are supposed to be setting the beat for bioregionalism, or regions that are more environmental conscious and self-sustaining.)
Our first project would be the reforestation of Bella Vista, a gathering of small, bamboo homes neighboring Bahia to the south. Bella Vista is built on a steep hillside and needs varying tree roots to help stave off erosion, bring it back to its natural habitat, as well as provide cover from the hot sun.
Above the neighborhood’s school and next to one-bedroom homes, I was giving back, digging holes for about seven different varieties of native trees.
Under the blazing hot sun and 90-plus degree temperatures, I would soon praise the ¨work to live, not live to work” mentality of both our Ecuadorian leaders, Orlando and Ramon.
Come our noon quitting time, we had more than six hours to get ready for another “caida del sol.”
Lost in translation, wealth
During a ensuing caida del sol, I stumbled in telling Orlando about my dad’s plans to buy 20 cows this spring.
“Mi padre comprar viente vacas es primavera,” I said.
He replied with a feigned, “Oh.”
I was thrown off. His response was very subdued for a typically joking and happy middle-aged man.
I know my espanol is broken, but I thought it was comprehendible there. Plus, I thought Orlando could relate to that comment, given his work.
I might have received the answer to his uncharacteristic reply when we returned to Bella Vista the next day.
Orlando lives in a tiny bamboo house in the middle of the barrio, or neighborhood. He probably not only didn’t understand my words; he probably didn’t even relate to being able to purchase something like that.
That doesn´t mean Orlando doesn´t have pride. As we pulled into Bella Vista with a pick-up full of trees, he would shout to neighbors and point to the tiny trees.